Since then, I have changed my mind, sometimes unwillingly. Chrome and theme can help convince people to actually play a game. They can help people learn and understand a game. And they can add a real level of aesthetic and tactile enjoyment to a game.
On the one hand, I’ve found a lack of theme can hurt game play and bad components can make a game literally unplayable. On the other hand, great components cannot save bad mechanics.
Let’s take Executive Decision for an example of how a lack of theme honestly hurt gameplay. Executive Decision is a Sid Sackson design from back in the day and the players create an economy where their decisions are entirely drive supply and demand. Mechanically, it’s simple but brilliant and the two or three guys I convinced to try it really liked it too.
But it has literally no theme. It’s all about buying raw materials to make finished goods to sell but they are all identified as letters. If you added some kind of details (having the game be about making cars or lamps or enchanted swords or mysterious robots or weird colored goo), it would make the game so much more accessible. (Has someone already done that?)
On the other hand, the best components in the world won’t save bad game mechanics. Anyone remember the Ology games from about ten years back (Dragonology, Pirateology, etc)? They were famed for great components (at least for the time) and terrible gameplay.
What can really be a problem is when components have so many issues that you struggle to physically play the game. The second edition of Robotology had such a flimsy board and tiny pieces, a deep sigh could blow everything off the table. Zombiegeddon has such color issues and muddy art that even my friends who could see colors had big problems.
Part of the reason I’ve been mulling this over again is because of my old friend PnP. Because publishers _should_ be able to make better components than I can.
While I have gotten better (maybe even much better) at making components, I still have some big limitations. For instance, our printer is black and white and I’m hard pressed to imagine buying a color printer when black and white works for just about any need we have.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with PnP games but it’s not for nothing that I’ve been focusing on solitaire games where the only person who has to be satisfied with the quality of the components.
Still, I have reached the point where I can pretty much be sure that my PnP are functional. And many choices still look good in black and white (and some are flat out designed in black and white)
So I guess the question comes down to would these games be more fun with professional quality components. And I’m prepared to admit that the answer is probably yes. However, how much more fun :P